Israel’s Destitution in the Land of Milk and Honey


Sermon Text: Judges 6:1-10
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#8)
Click to Watch Sermon Video:

Main Points:
I. Israel’s evil before God
II. God’s response to Israel’s evil
III. Living in “the land of promise”

Let me begin by giving you a snapshot of the life of Israel at the time of Jdg. 6.

A watcher boy rushes back to his town, crying out gaspingly from a far, ‘They’re coming! Hurry up! They’re coming!’ As soon as the farmers in the field hear him and look at the faint sign of approaching herds of camels and sheep on the horizon, they quickly drop things from their hands, and rush back to their home, alerting all villagers. Hearing this urgent warning, families quickly gather together, pick up their luggage that are already packed and made ready for this very moment, move out of their town, and sneak into the rugged hilly area and into caves, hiding from the eyes of the raiders. Having repeated this over several years by now, these refugees seem to be familiar with what to do and where to hide. As the last person enters each cave, they shut themselves out in their haven. So long as those invaders remain in their fields, so long as those plunderers slaughter their cattle and sheep and eat them up with all their crops of their farms and all fruit from their orchards, no noise should go out from their caves during the day, no light should be seen at night.

It continues until the moment a scout finally brings a report of the plunderers’ departure from their region. Then, one by one, they crawl out of their caves and re-enter their homes in tears, sighs and deep despair because nothing is left for them at their once-called home or barn or pastureland. Yet, the worst fear of these stricken people is that their enemies would come back when the next harvest time approaches and no one is going to stop them.

Reading v. 2 and following, we see how dark and difficult time it must’ve been for Israel. They are in deep pain and despair, and no hope is left in their eyes and minds. Never has it been like this since their entry into Canaan. Israel is, as v. 6 describes, brought low, very low, having neither generals nor soldiers, neither castles nor strongholds against their fierce enemies. For seven years, the Midianites allied with the Amalekites and the people of the East have invaded Israel and plundered them – not just cattle and sheep they take, but also crops and fruit and even grass from the fields they pillage. Israel has been robbed thoroughly for seven years and lived in both spiritual and material destitution.

Being in a low moment in history is by itself not a strange thing – it happens to all peoples and nations. We know that Australian life was once in an awful situation just like all other nations and peoples in the world have been sometime in the past, if not present. But, Israel’s devastation recorded in Jdg. 6 is a strange thing to our ears as it surely is an irony – it doesn’t make sense. Israel’s destitute, dirt-poor, life in Canaan is a stark irony because their land is ‘the land flowing with milk and honey.’

So, this morning, let us follow this story of Israel in Jdg. 6 and hear God’s message on what it means for us Christians to live in God’s promise.

We begin with this devastation introduced to Israel. V. 1 of our text passage tells us that it is because Israel once again did what was evil in God’s sight. This evil they did is deserting God and turning to and worshipping the idols of their neighbours.

If anyone thinks that this evil would be like a change of one’s insurance company – I mean, Israel terminated with worshipping the God of the Bible and no longer associated themselves with anything of following God, and switched over to bowing to idols like Baals and Ashtaroth, that’s incorrect. Israel’s evil was not like transferring plane or ship; it was not like they altogether left God and joined Baal worship. They did not burn down God’s tabernacle, nor kick God’s priests out of their towns. No, that’s not what they did. Instead, they kept God’s tabernacle, His priests and the worship of God as prescribed in their Bible. Their evil was, however, adding their neighbours’ idols next to their God and worshipping them alongside the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. So, they worshipped multiple gods, and the God of the Bible became one of many gods like Baals and Ashtaroth and Anath and so on. That was their evil.

This was done by their bending and twisting of God’s word to serve their lustful desires. Like the way Aaron and Israelites had formed a golden calf at the foot of Mt Sinai and called it their ‘God,’ Israel of Jdg. 6 altered God’s commands to suit and satisfy their sinful desires. In this evil, they legalised idol worship alongside worship to Jehovah God; they enabled intermarriage with not just the unbelievers, but also anybody; they silenced all objectors to sinful, unbiblical laws and inducements, and the like.

In fact, this evil was not new to the Israelites. It had happened to the generations of the previous judges – such as Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah. Those judges were raised by God because Israel at their times were evil, just like this generation of Jdg. 6. It was a recurring evil of Israel before God.

The point is that every generation of Israel forgets what their former generations did and how much trouble they faced because of their evil, and in what way God delivered them. None of them have learnt from history, thus, repeat the same evil again and again, continually bending and twisting God’s word, bowing to both the world and the God of the Bible.

Truth is that it has never changed since the time of Judges and our generation repeats the same evil. God’s word and His righteous commands are still bent and twisted by people (and even by some churches!) to suit and satisfy man’s lusts! It is not easy to find in our days true and faithful worshippers of God who reject false gods of this world. In this sense, the Israel of Jdg. 6 is a portrait of all generations, including the one at present of which you and I are members.

God’s response to the evil and unfaithful Israel was a whip. God handed His people over to Israel’s enemies, a coalition of the Midianites, the Amalekites and the people of the East. It used to be the people of Mesopotamia at the time of Othniel, then, the Moabites and the Philistines for the next two judges. In the generation just prior to this of Jdg. 6, it was the Canaanites. Unlike the previous cases, these enemies raid Israel, plunder their land and go back and stay away until the time of another raid. The people of Israel have become so devastated and destitute. God’s whip has caused them to lose everything except their voices, that is, for them to cry out for help to the Lord God.

If anyone thinks that this is God’s punishment for Israel in His anger, if anyone else considers this as the evidence of God’s abandonment of Israel as His response to Israel’s abandonment of God, both are wrong. What we read from Jdg. 6 is neither God’s punishment nor abandonment of Israel. Rather, it is God’s discipline, God’s act of correcting His people and leading them to repentance and faith.

When God abandons anyone, any people, He simply leaves them alone. He does not care what they are up to. Rom. 1:24 and following is clear about this, saying that God gave up the sinners in their lusts and to dishonourable passions and to a ‘debased’ (or ‘depraved’) mind. That’s what God does to those He abandons.

But for His own children, God never leaves them alone nor in sin forever. He warns them, teaches them the right way, urges and drags and trains them for righteousness. Whipping them is one of the ways God uses to guide His dear ones to depart from their sins and live in the Lord. Hear what Heb. 12:5-8 say: “‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, … then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

God reproves, chastises, disciplines His dear ones, like Israel of Jdg. 6 and us of St Columba’s of the 21st century. When He disciplines, it is for leading us to repentance and for restoring and deepening our faith in the Lord Jesus. See what Israel of Jdg. 6 have reached under God’s discipline – they cry out to God for help. In other words, they remember their sins; they altogether have realised the weight of their sins, that is, abandoning God through twisting and bending His words and commands. Remembering it, they repent of their evil, and seek restoration of God’s favour, recommitting themselves to the Lord! What a gracious God our Lord is! How glorious is the outcome of God’s discipline! And how blessed are those who receive God’s discipline!

Having considered Israel’s evil (which is also the evil of our generation) and God’s gracious response, I’d like you to ponder over Israel’s life in their land as described in our text passage.

As I mentioned earlier in the introduction to this sermon, Israel’s devastation and destitution in Canaan is a stark irony. There’s great incoherence between Israel’s situation and the God-given title of their land, Canaan. And in this incoherence, we find a significant spiritual lesson for us.

Let me explain what I mean by this. Canaan is the land God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. Ever since, Canaan has been to Israel the land of promise. Leaving Egypt, Israel was on the way to this land of promise. In the early stage of their journey, they realised how good their land of promise was. In Num. 13, Israel sent 12 spies to scout the land. Those spies brought good news and reported to all of Israel that the land was ‘with milk and honey.’ They brought an evidence, that is, a single cluster of grapes. Two of those spies carried that cluster on a pole. It was a fertile land with rich soil and plenty of water supply. Whatever was sown, the land would produce 30, 60 and hundred times more. Moreover, God promised Israel that He would provide them rain in season, the early rain and the later rain, as recorded in Dt. 11:14.

But, for seven years, on such a beautiful and blessed land, all of Israel are anxious and devastated because of the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East, not once every year, but any time of the year and whenever they feel like to devour all of the land. In such a rich and productive land, Israel is left in absolute destitution; they are dirt-poor! They are brought so low that there would be no lower level to fall. Rather than being the envy of the surrounding nations, they’ve become a scorn of the surrounding peoples.

So, this question arises – ‘What is happening with Israel and what is this all about?’ Truth is that such is the problem not only of Israel but also of many Christians in our day and age. Like the way Israel missed out of the abundance of the promised land, many Christians in this generation miss out of the richness of God’s promise given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

The land of promise given to the OT Israel to live in was of abundant blessing. Likewise, the name, Jesus, given to us of the NT who are the spiritual Israel to dwell in is of eternal blessing that overflows. But, many Christians live without enjoying the richness of God’s blessing because they do not realise the blessing and power of this name, Jesus Christ. The Bible explains us what we have become by this name, Jesus – that is, God’s blessed children, the heirs of God’s kingdom. All who believe in Jesus are partakers of the promise in Him, the Lord.

But, many of us consider this as what we will be when we finish this earthly life and enter into heaven. That is a partial understanding of our status in Jesus. The full picture is that we have become heirs and partakers of God’s promise when we believed, and we have the full privilege as the heirs even here on earth. Hear what 1 Pet. 2:9 says, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession.” Please note that that verse says, ‘you ARE’ rather than ‘you WILL.’ You ARE a chosen one of God in Jesus here and now till eternity. Only difference between now and later is that our privilege and power and blessing in Jesus will be fully realised later in heaven or, if Jesus returns earlier than our fleshly death, then, in His consummated kingdom. In a word, all of us who believe in Jesus, thus, members of God’s family have full blessings of Jesus, that is, Christ’s power over sin. Our freedom in and through Jesus is the overflowing blessing. This blessing is the ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ and we’ve moved into it and are already living in it.

Consider it together with me. When you were under the power of sin, you were the slaves of your own lusts and the subject of your own passions. Whenever your enemy, the devil, raided you, you had no other option than being plundered, and your heart and mind and body were devastated, and your life was in absolute destitution. Your worst fear at that time was there was no hope of deliverance from your despair!

But, now, having been rescued from your former slavery, you’re free; you’re with the Lord Jesus; you’ve received His power over sin and you have declared, together with Jesus, victory over sin! What a great blessing this is! You are the heirs and partakers of God’s promise HERE and NOW until eternity! As the heirs, you are to bear and enjoy the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, you and I have begun bearing them and enjoying such fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, haven’t we?

This is the meaning of living in the land of promise, my dear fellow heirs of God’s kingdom!

To the OT Israel, the land of promise, land of milk and honey was given to live in, but Israel of Jdg. 6 failed and rejected their blessing. So, they lived in destitution in the land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, soon, under God’s gracious discipline, they would return to their God in repentance and faith, and be delivered from their calamity by the hand of a judge (in another word, a saviour or messiah), and this time, it’s Gideon. Lord willing, we’ll start reading and meditating on God’s message through Gideon’s story from next week.

Meanwhile, what about enjoying your life living in Christ Jesus, our Saviour, fully committing yourselves to Him alone? ***

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